Globe Pub a Chicago soccer mainstay

CHICAGO -- Stuart Johnston has watched the World Cup in every possible way.

He's seen it in person -- the most recommendable way -- as he followed his home country Scotland's squad to Spain for the 1982 World Cup.

"That's when I fell in love with it," said Johnston, whose accent is more British than anything after moving around Europe as a child. "It was such a party. It was so much fun. I didn't know what the word party meant before I met the Brazilians. The atmosphere was just so great."

He's also watched it in less recommendable fashions. As a 10-year-old, he nestled up to an 18-inch black-and-white TV for the 1974 final between West Germany and Holland.

"You could hardly see the television," Johnston recalled.

Today, Johnston's viewing experience is somewhere in the middle. As the owner of The Globe Pub, one of Chicago's most popular soccer bars, Johnston is often surrounded by hundreds of screaming fans as if he were actually in South Africa and from every angle can turn to watch the game's action from a large, flat-screen television that would dwarf the 18-inch one he once viewed it on.

"The camaraderie, [the World Cup] is just meeting all these people all over the world brought together by football," Johnston said. "It's just a great experience. That's what we try to do here. It's not just the English Premier League or the MLS. It's the Africa Cup of Nations here, and it was like all Nigerians or people of Cameroon for example, but everyone is here for the love of the game."

Johnston originally came to Chicago while working for Accenture, formerly Andersen Consulting, in the early 1990s. Looking to watch soccer while in town, Johnston found few very options. The ones he did discover he felt were poorly run.

In time, the idea of a soccer bar came to Johnston. He always dreamed of opening his own pub, and he felt Chicago's soccer community was desperate for a dedicated place.

"Everywhere I went in the world there would be an Irish pub somewhere with a whole gang of guys standing around like an 18-inch TV on a chair, on a table," said Johnston, who himself played semi-professionally for three years in England. "That was the concept of a sports bar in a lot of places. Coming over here, there wasn't a great venue to go to. That's why we thought, 'Yeah, there is a market for this.' Soccer isn't big in America, but there's a good demand, and if you do it right, the people will come."

The beginning years were rough on The Globe and Johnston after opening up in September of 2004. The maintenance bills piled up from the start. Plus, Johnson was committed to show every major game, and that sometimes meant losing money on hosting for a small crowd. While the soccer crowds did begin packing the place, there were plenty of other hours where the bar was empty.

"We had three or four very tough years," Johnston said. "That's just opening a bar. Initially if we didn't have the soccer crowd, we probably wouldn't have survived. I wasn't sleeping well. It was really bad."

In 2006, that changed with the World Cup's arrival. Fans of nearly every country were seeking a place to watch their team play, and The Globe offered them a home.

"Two thousand and six was the first time we really got on the map," said Johnston, whose bar has twice been named the country's best soccer bar by the U.S. Soccer Federation. "We had so many people coming here. The 2006 World Cup was what really kick-started the bar. It was crazy, and we had a large number of days where we had to turn people away. It was just chaos. We weren't used to dealing with those sort of numbers."

Four years later, The Globe has been much better prepared. For the early morning games in the group stage, Johnston awoke at 5 a.m. -- he lives above the bar – and his staff arrived at 5:30 a.m. Around 6 a.m., the beers began pouring and breakfast was served. For the U.S.-England game, Johnston took reservations, and he was nearly sold out weeks before.

On the day of games, Johnston will often be running around crazily with his staff and has little time to watch any action. When the bar is less chaotic, Johnston will sit down, talk to people, have a Carlsberg and take in a game.

That's when life is really good.

"I love meeting people," Johnston said. "I know it sounds corny, but I really do. I love beer. I love meeting people. I love football. It's a perfect combination for me. The ultimate for me is when we open The Globe Pub on a Caribbean island, so I'll be on the beach watching football, drinking beer, meeting people.

"I have no regrets. I had a well-paying job. It was a big risk, but I'm very happy now. Life is about more than a salary. I'm very happy with my life."

Scott Powers is covering the World Cup locally for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.